How to Support your Child at Home if they are Struggling at School

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By Renee Irving-Lee, Children’s Book Author © 2020 Learning Links

It’s natural for parents to worry about their children during their schooling years.

It can be hard to know what to do, however, if your child is really struggling. Are they just going through a rough patch? Will they improve with age? Or is there something else going on?

Many children, especially those with learning difficulties will have various challenges throughout their school life with academic work, communication, social skills and/or group dynamics. As a parent, it can be very distressing to see them struggle and it often leaves us feeling powerless and unsure on the most effective way to help them. The good news is that the ways parents support their child at home can play a very vital role in supporting behaviour, motivation and performance at school. The help, and encouragement that you provide as a parent when your child begins to struggle will have a significant impact on how easily they can get back on track.

What is causing difficulties?

In order to best support your child at home, it is important to identify exactly what is causing them to have difficulties in the first place. Your child may be experiencing challenges in one or many areas of school.

Difficulties may include:

  1. Academic work
  • Has the teacher noticed any problem areas?
  • Do they feel like the workload is too much for them to keep up?
  • Are they overwhelmed?
  1. Social Skills
  • Do they find it challenging to communicate with others?
  • Do they lack in certain social skills that are required to work with their peers in group projects or the playground?
  1. Behaviour
  • Do they find it challenging to regulate their behaviour in class?
  • Is their behaviour disrupting others?
  • Do they have difficulty regulating their emotions to focus on schoolwork?
  1. Environmental Factors
  • Is there something in the environment that is contributing? e.g. light, noise, temperature
  • Are they overwhelmed in a busy classroom?
  • Are they influenced by the students sitting next to them?
  1. Biophysical Factors
  • Do they have any medical issues that affect their ability to work at school?
  • Do they have any developmental delays, disabilities or learning difficulties?
  1. Psychological Factors
  • Has there been any trauma or emotional stress that may affect their ability to work at school?
  1. Student Group Dynamics/Relationships
  • Is there any group dynamics or friendship changes that affect their ability to work at school?
  • Has your child been bullied at school?
  • Does your child have a tricky dynamic with the teacher?

Children are not always forthcoming with information about their school life, especially if they have negative feelings associated with it. Unless their teacher has specifically told you that your child is having difficulty at school, it may not always be obvious. There are usually some tell-tale patterns of behaviour, however that can indicate problems at school. These include:

  • Refusal to talk about school
  • Becomes very distant or angry
  • Experiencing extreme emotions when talking about school
  • Change in classroom behaviour
  • School avoidance, eg. pretending to be sick or procrastinating when trying to get ready
  • Sleep disturbances

If you are noticing any of these patterns of behaviour, then it is best to speak with their teacher as early as possible to develop strategies for school and for supporting your child at home.

How to Communicate with the Teacher

To get the best outcome for your child, it is essential to work in partnership with both the school and the teacher. This will give everyone clear insight into what is happening at both home and school and then as a team, you can pinpoint why the child is having such a challenging time. Ensure that you are forthcoming with the teacher about any information about your child which may impact their behaviour or learning at school. It’s really important to discuss topics that may be quite sensitive including emotional difficulties, divorce or financial problems.

It is also extremely important that the child perceives the teacher and the parent to be a cohesive unit. If the child senses that there is tension between both sides, then this will cause further apprehension and anxiety for them at school. Always speak positively about their teacher. If parents aren’t speaking respectfully about the teacher at home, how can it be expected of the child at school?

Some tips on how to communicate with the teacher:

  • If you have any concerns about your child, don’t wait until the end of term for parent-teacher meetings. Contact your teacher straight away to organise a meeting.
  • Try to pause and calm yourself. Parents are usually most emotional and irrational when dealing with issues about their own children – and this is perfectly normal.  Try to centre yourself before speaking with the teacher so that you can both concentrate on the most important issue – your child.  If you feel like you may have trouble with this, it may be more beneficial to put your concerns into writing first and then arrange a meeting. That way the teacher will already know exactly what your concerns are before the meeting and you will be able to say everything you want to without your emotions getting the better of you.
  • To maximise your time with the teacher, prepare questions in advance or write down everything you would like to discuss.
  • Work out the best way to communicate and how often.
  • Follow up and check in with the teacher on a regular basis.
  • Always speak to the teacher first with any concerns before taking matters elsewhere. There is no need to go to the Head of Department or Principal if you haven’t spoken with the classroom teacher yet.
  • Ask how you can support your child at home.
  • Ask about additional support your child can access at school.
  • Ask if you can meet any other relevant teachers, or support workers.

How Parents Can Support their Child at Home

One of the most helpful ways a parent can help a child who is struggling at school is to create a home environment that is calm, safe, loving and a central place for all family members to reconnect after a long day.

If children are having trouble at school then it is even more important for them to be able to unwind, de-stress and mentally unload when returning home. Empower your child to talk openly about school and allow them a safe space to discuss their feelings honestly.  Take the time to just listen to how they are feeling and what their concerns are. Often having an adult to listen to them without telling them what to do, can make a world of difference.  It will also help you better understand their point of view and determine the best ways in which you can support them.

See Learning Links Parenting Programs for more help on positive parenting.

Other ways to help include:

  • Change the language and tone of voice you use when talking about school and homework. If they are already overwhelmed by the work at school, it will create extra tension at home if they feel like they are being nagged by their parents.
  • Establish a relationship with the teacher and have open conversations about your child on a regular basis.
  • Have your child’s hearing and eyesight tested, to rule out any problems in these areas.
  • If applicable, use the same behaviour management strategies at home as they do at school.
  • Make expectations of schoolwork and behaviour clear to your child, but they also must be realistic.
  • Help them with self-mastery in other areas of their life. If they are struggling in one area of school, it will most likely have affected their self-esteem in some way.  Help them feel good about themselves again by mastering a skill in something completely different.
  • Talk to them about a time when you struggled at school yourself or give them examples of other role models who struggled at school and then went on to make many achievements.
  • Establish a clear routine for school, eg. packing bag, doing homework, preparing for the school day. etc
  • Reduce after school activities if needed to allow them important downtime.
  • Access tutoring or educational support, like Learning Links’ Specialist Tutoring program.
  • Help them to find ways to de-stress after a long day at school (e.g. warm bath, meditation, or ways to burn off energy)

Even though it is hard to watch as a parent, overcoming struggle is an important opportunity for growth and resilience in children.  There have been many adults who struggled at school as children, but then went on to make outstanding achievements in their respective fields.  Parents can support children in many ways and help them to change their mindset to ensure that their struggle at school becomes a meaningful, life-long learning lesson.

Where to go for more help

Raising children Network – Problem Solving Strategies for Parents and Teachers

Maggie Dent – Helping Children who Struggle at School